It seems that Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is attempting to make an effort to change his image just a bit after a particularly heated 2015 season during which he was on the receiving end of some high-profile disciplinary action, culminating in a three-game suspension that he will serve at the start of the 2016 season.
It also seems that he still doesn’t really get it, as elucidated in his comments to Josina Anderson for an interview with ESPN.
While discussing the hit that ultimately and finally drew the suspension—a fairly violent helmet-to-helmet hit against Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown as he sprawled out for an off-target pass—he seemed to show a lack of awareness as to the severity of his action.
Regarding that play, he said, “I think if I wasn’t number 55, I wouldn’t have got flagged”, a comment that to me strikes as a major issue, even if much of the rest of the interview comments currently made available reveal a player who understands that he needs to change the way that he plays the game.
“I play hard”, he said. “My style of play is aggressive, and [the game has] changed, and I have to change with it”. That is certainly a fine comment taken at face value—but it the comment that immediately preceded the one in which he expressed the belief that it was his reputation, and not his hit, that merited a flag on the Brown play.
This reveals an individual that has not yet reached a point of understanding in which he realizes that his actions themselves are in the wrong. Rather, he is simply responding to negative stimuli, modifying his behavior because of the consequences that they bring. It seems pretty readily apparent that he thinks there is nothing wrong with his style of play in and of itself.
This is in spite of the evidence throughout the history of his career, dating back to college, which was littered with on-field laundry. In his four-year NFL career spanning 47 regular season games and a few postseason games, he has accumulated 16 personal foul penalties, which is roughly one every three games or so.
Burfict drew a total of about $60,000 in fines for three separate incidents during the 2013 season, then another $25,000 in 2014 for twisting players’ ankles on the ground—a year in which he played five games. Last season, he totaled about $120,000 in fines in games against the Steelers for several incidents.
To summarize, he has drawn 16 personal fouls, been fined over $200,000, and been suspended for three games for the way that he plays the game. But in his mind, it is his reputation, and not his actions, that is the culprit.
Burfict described the incident with Brown as a “bang-bang play” and one that was virtually unavoidable, but the ample video evidence suggests otherwise. None of these even accounts for all of the extracurricular behavior, including spitting on opponents, harassing opposing teams during warmups, and gratuitously bumping into a cameraman and potentially injuring him.
He is certainly right that he needs to change his behavior in fitting with the way the game is played today. But he also needs to change the way that he thinks about his actions and the way he plays and carries himself in general.